‘Nashville’ Review: Hellos and Goodbyes Anchor ‘This Just Ain’t a Good Day for Leavin”
Recap and review of Nashville – Season 3 Episode 17 – This Just Ain’t a Good Day for Leavin’:
Nashville is frequently at its best when it’s focusing on the ins and outs of the music industry, but it’s also unmistakably powerful when it explores the different ways in which people process hardship. “This Just Ain’t a Good Day for Leavin'” is about as good as they come in bringing those complicated emotions to a head.
Naturally, an episode as fraught with emotional complications as this one would inevitable focus on a mixture of hellos and goodbyes. Part of the dramatic weight of a goodbye is in one party struggling with how to say it, and the other struggling to accept it. I can’t tell you how relieved I was that Sadie (Laura Benanti) is eventually cleared in the death of Pete, with the unregistered fire arm charge being bumped down to a misdemeanor, as I had expected this to take up the rest of the season for her. But with being cleared comes a realization for Sadie: she needs to leave Nashville and sort out her life back home in Virginia. It’s a decision Sadie wrestles with for most of the episode, but once she settles on it, her mind is made up. Or rather, she feels she needs to remain firm in that decision. This is why she makes sure she’s already gone before calling to tell Rayna (Connie Britton) the news. “I know you’d just talk me into stayin’,” Sadie tells her, tearfully. For Sadie, it’s a struggle to put her career on hold and say goodbye to the connections she’s made in Nashville, but part of accepting that you have to say goodbye is knowing that it’s for the best. And so it is with Rayna, who comes to accept that Sadie has to go, telling her to take as much time as she needs, and that she’ll hopefully see her again if/when she comes back. It’s a dignified exit for Sadie, albeit a sad one. Granted, I knew Laura Benanti wouldn’t be around forever, since she’s off to play Supergirl’s mom on CBS, but her talent has been immensely appreciated this season. She added poignancy and power to a storyline that could have played as a dry, eye-rolling Lifetime original movie. Instead, it’s gripping to see Sadie’s attempts to come to grips with, in her words, killing a man she once loved. It felt honest in a way these stories don’t always feel, and I felt thankful for what Benanti brought to the role.
And yet, it’s not the only instance in which the difficulty of goodbye takes center stage. Maddie (Lennon Stella) is reacting to news of Deacon’s cancer by shutting him out entirely. Deacon (Charles Esten) immediately recognizes what this is, as Maddie is attempting to push him away to avoid the matter of goodbye entirely. And yet, Deacon isn’t gone yet, so it’s something Maddie is going to have to face. My favorite scene in the episode is when Maddie finally admits to Deacon that she’s mad: not at him, or at anyone in particular. She’s just mad. There’s something inherently unfair when something like cancer happens to an otherwise good person, and for Maddie, it’s doubly unfair, since she’s only just connecting with Deacon. It feels like they’re being robbed of all the years they should be able to have together, and Deacon admits that it’s okay for her to be angry about it, since he’s angry himself. Still, he doesn’t want to be shut out entirely, saying that would be far more painful than any cancer. Much like with Sadie’s farewell, this feels like an honest moment between a father and his daughter, and it breeds other similarly poignant moments, such as the father-to-father talk between Deacon and Teddy (Eric Close), and the moments Deacon spends alone with Rayna. I still don’t buy that Deacon is dying (even if the season finale is titled “Before You Go Make Sure You Know”), but the threat that he could is what makes these moments all the more heartfelt. And, as an added bonus, it gives narrative power to Teddy’s storyline. Seeing through Deacon’s plight just how vital it is to do everything in your power to remain with your family, Teddy blackmails his financial adviser with photos of an illicit affair in order to get him to provide the discretionary funds he needs to get Natasha (Moniqua Plante) out of the country and out of his life. Teddy is clearly ashamed of what he’s doing, but he can’t allow this scandal to get out, since it would mean more than the end of his political career. He’d essentially never be able to look his girls in the eyes again, and he just can’t have that. So he’ll be ruthless if being ruthless means preventing that outcome. It’s morally obtuse, but understandable, which makes it a dramatically potent story.
Similarly potent is the resumed love story between Scarlett (Clare Bowen) and Gunnar (Sam Palladio). Gunnar is suffering while on tour, since he can’t bear the thought of Scarlett with Caleb (Nick Jandl). This jealousy manifests in the form of anger, as he flies off the handle at Scarlett for getting so serious with Caleb so quickly. Scarlett throws Zoey back into his face as a retort, saying he didn’t need to get involved with her best friend, and things inevitably get out of hand from there. They get into a huge argument in which Scarlett reveals that she rejected Gunnar’s marriage proposal because he wasn’t in the right state of mind after Jason’s death. She goes on to add that she waited for him to regain his senses and come back to her with a clearer head, but he never did, so she moved on. Gunnar realizes that Scarlett has essentially been waiting for him all this time, and he has little choice but to confront those lingering emotions onstage after Avery (Jonathan Jackson) has to back out of the Triple Xs show due to a medical emergency. Gunnar plays a song with Scarlett that’s meant to serve as a tribute to their partnership, and the passion is still clearly there between the two. In fact, their song together is one of the best music moments of this season. But it’s not enough to bring Scarlett back around. When Gunnar insists that she had to have felt something up there, she declares, “The only thing I felt up there was music.” It doesn’t seem like the band is going to be breaking up, but it wouldn’t surprise me if these romantic complications made playing in a band together untenable for one of the two. That said, if someone has to leave, I’d hate for it to be Scarlett, since she’s already given up on her dream once. Preferably, it’d be neither of them leaving, since I’m really digging The Triple Xs. Ultimately, I’m still expecting they’ll be back together, and sooner rather than later.
But all of those developments are eclipsed by Juliette (Hayden Panettiere) finally having the baby. Yes, that medical emergency Avery bails on the show for is Juliette going into labor. And this, after an entire episode of Juliette being comically insufferable, with her hormones going haywire when plans for her Rayna-hosted baby shower don’t pan out the way she expected. Hayden Panettiere does an outstanding job of depicting that while Juliette is being an absolute monster with her attitude, we shouldn’t hate her for it. She feels marginalized by all the other things everyone else has going on in their lives, whether it’s Avery and his band or Rayna and her label. She even gasps that Sadie would have the nerve to shoot someone on the day of her baby shower. Juliette is being entirely irrational, and Panettiere plays it in such a way that it’s both comical, infuriating, and a little sad. It isn’t until she goes into labor in front of Rayna that everything starts to come together. She’s afraid of giving birth alone, and fears that the baby will be brought into the world without both her parents, a reasonable fear considering the sort of home from which she herself came. However, Avery makes it in time, and declares he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else accept here with his girls. The baby is born, and like that, Juliette is back to normal, less through the act of birth and more through the recognition that she has a support structure, from Avery to Glenn (Ed Amatrudo) and Emily (Kourtney Hansen). She doesn’t have to say goodbye to anyone anymore. She only has hellos, and so she and Avery greet their daughter with an absolutely gorgeous lullaby that is one of the emotional highlights of the season. Of course, it’s somewhat undermined by the show cutting to black right as Juliette is about to reveal the baby’s name, but I could sort of see it coming, given how hard the show has been pushing the “suggest names to us on Twitter!” promotion. It wasn’t enough to dull the sweetness of this ending, nor did it diminish what has been a great journey for both Juliette and Avery.
“This Just Ain’t a Good Day for Leavin'” is one of the more emotional episode of Nashville this year, and if it keeps up, I might be a complete mess by the end of it. That said, the show is a lot more than the sum of its tearjerkers, so I’m anxious to see how the narrative changes when we get back to the business side of things next week with Christina Aguilera. Until then, this was as good an episode as any for setting the stage for the emotional stakes of the final episodes of this season.